DALLAS — The Oklahoma women thought they were picking up momentum at the right time. Entering the Big 12 tournament coming off two wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, everything seemed to be coming together.
The Sooners fell behind West Virginia 19 points at the half and came back to win, setting a new conference tourney comeback standard. The next day, against Iowa State, they fell behind 19 at the half again. They were never any closer than 18 and lost by the same 19.
Still, it’s all a part of the learning experience for OU coach Sherri Coale.
Sunday, in her post game media session, after ticking off all that went wrong with the Cyclones, the Sooner coach said the following:
“That being said, I’m really proud of my team, I’m really proud of our progress this year, I’m proud of our growth,” she said. “We’ve got a lot left to play for. Looking forward to a few days off where we can recover.”
It is an insight into the way Coale looks at her team. Down to eight able-bodied players not counting late-arriving volleyball transfer Eden Williams, it has been an up and down season for the Sooners.
For a while, they looked like the conference’s second team, behind Baylor, after opening league play with four straight wins. Later, they looked like a team adrift, losing four games in five tries before closing the regular season — after a four-day break — with two wins.
Now, they get a much longer break, with NCAA bids coming out Monday and the Big Dance opening the following weekend.
“I think it’s good for all of us to recover a little bit from all this beating that’s been going on,” Ellenberg said. “That’s going to be great for us.”
For Coale, getting crushed in two consecutive first halves is no indictment of her team. Instead, it’s one more thing to overcome; and, perhaps, not entirely unexpected considering the shorthanded nature of the roster.
“Everything that you go through, if you approach it in the right way, you can learn and grow,” she said. “These guys have done that all year long.
“It took us until the end of February to figure out how to be mentally tough together when we’re really tight, when we’re really physically worn down, when you face great opponent after great opponent after great opponent … The great performance by Iowa State (gives) us yet another level of something to play through.”
On the face of it, OU must shoot better and rebound. The Cyclones out-boarded the Sooners 49-28. OU shot 37.7 percent against West Virginia and 35.5 percent against Iowa State.
It could also use some high-scoring games from its high scorer. Ellenberg entered the tournament averaging 19 points per game, but scored just 12 against the Mountaineers and 11 against the Cyclones, shooting 7 of 30 between the two games.
The Sooners have bounced back before.
“When we get to the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament, we’ll be better and harder for (our Big 12 tournament experience),” Coale said. “If handled in the right way, it can be a great thing that happened to us.”
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